A pie in the face of an improv comedy performer meant a $15 donation to the Charter House Coalition (CHC) last Friday.
For nearly nine hours, members of the college’s three improv comedy groups — Otter Nonsense, Middlebrow and Baggage Claim — hosted the first annual “Charter House Improvathon” outdoors before a live audience, in the Gamut Room Amphitheatre.
They took turns performing through the afternoon and evening in support of the Charter House’s fundraising campaign to make its building fully accessible for those with disabilities.
Audience members were offered the chance to make improvisers say or do certain things in return for donations — for $10 one could make a performer sing or dance — and Charter House T-shirts were also on sale for $15. Attendance was consistent throughout the night except during dinner hours, and around 10:30 p.m. a rush of excited students crowded into the outdoor theater to join in the final hour and a half.
As for the improvisers, who continued performing even as the audience fluctuated, the temperature dropped and pie cream congealed in their hair, they were exhausted but thrilled to be using comedy for a greater purpose.
“One of my favorite things in this world is improv comedy, and to have something that gives me so much joy be used to make concrete improvement in other people’s lives makes it even more enjoyable,” said Middlebrow member and Campus cartoon editor Kaitlynd Collins ’19.5 after the event. “It certainly wasn’t my best improv — you tend to get a little delirious with a tiny audience, dried pie hair and hours of improv — but at the same time I would do it again in an instant.”
The Improvathon raised $800, all of which will benefit Charter House’s $81,000 GoFundMe fundraising campaign for building accessibility. So far, the campaign has raised a total of $3,040. (To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/accessibility-at-charter-house.)
CHC is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization located in downtown Middlebury that houses those in need during the fall and winter months and provides thousands of meals throughout the year. CHC actually opened on Saturday, Sept. 1 this year, six weeks earlier than usual, in order to accommodate the community’s extra needs. The organization is housed in a building generously gifted by the Congregational Church this past July. Unfortunately, it is in dire need of many repairs and renovations.
“The building is 230 years old, and there are several items that need to be addressed in order for Charter House to continue to operate a shelter,” Co-Executive Director of CHC Samantha Kachmar told The Campus in a previous interview about the shelter’s early opening.
At the top of the list for Charter House right now are renovations to make the building more accessible. They began a three-year Neighbors Helping Neighbors campaign in order to raise funds for other repairs, but “accessibility can’t wait that long,” CHC wrote on their GoFundMe page. “Charter House needs to be made accessible this year, so we don’t ever have to turn someone away again.”
The Improvathon fundraiser was born from the actions of Jackie Atkins ’20, a member of the Middlebrow improv group and a former intern at the Charter House, where she volunteered this past summer. Atkins was the one who originally launched the GoFundMe accessibility campaign back in August, and she cares deeply about the importance of and immediate need for Charter House’s accessibility to all.
“If you think about how interconnected poverty and disability are, it’s just wrong that an inclusive space like Charter House isn’t easily accessible to everyone yet,” Atkins said.
She is also painfully conscious of the separation between the town of Middlebury and the college, particularly regarding student awareness of homelessness and the Charter House Coalition. She attempted to bridge that gap through the Improvathon.
“I think there’s a perception that Middlebury is an extremely wealthy town because of the presence of the college, but there’s a lot of poverty here,” Atkins said. “There’s a lot of awareness and generosity among students here, but there’s also a lot of willful ignorance.”
Indeed, Atkins and other student volunteers who worked the event found that many students had never heard of Charter House, further emphasizing the need for events like the Improvathon. “It’s an important thing because we want to raise awareness about housing insecurity here in Middlebury, which a lot of people don’t even know about,” said Mayher Patel ’19, who volunteers with Charter House and worked the fundraising table at the Improvathon.
Though the Improvathon’s original fundraising goal was $2000, Atkins did not feel discouraged. “I’m extremely proud that we were able to raise $800,” she said. “To me, it proves that an event like this is worthwhile, and with better planning on my end, it could be much more successful.”
The Charter House is always looking for new volunteers, and opportunities vary quite a bit: volunteers can work with the meal programs, take shifts supervising the winter shelter, work in the garden or join the maintenance team.
Trainings will be provided on-site for new volunteers at the following times: Thursday, Oct. 4, 6:30–8:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 6, 9–11 a.m.; Monday, Oct. 8, 10 a.m.–noon; Saturday, Oct. 20, 9–11 a.m. Students interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact the chair of the Charter House Student Organization, Luna Shen, at email@example.com.